I’ve been cleaning up my files this weekend in an effort to get ready for a brand new year. And while I’m not really a write-a-rough-draft-then-edit-it-to-make-it-better kind of girl when it comes to blogging – you know, I just write it as it comes – I do have a folder with snippets of ideas to think about later.

I’ve never actually used an idea from that folder. Until now.

I found this little bit I’d written last year right after Christmas:

Dave claims that I attempt to engage him in conversations for the sole purpose of getting him in trouble. He has labeled this so-called tactic “The Set-Up.” Here’s an example of what he’s talking about.

Leslie: “Am I a good wife?”

Dave: “Yeah, honey. You’re a great wife.”

L: “Well, how would you rate me? You know, if you were giving me a performance review.”

D: “Nah. No. I’m not doing this.”

L: “Doing what?”

D: “You’re setting me up.”

L: “What do you mean? I just asked a question.”

D: “Yeah, and when I answer it, you’ll get mad. I’m not doing this. Especially this close to Christmas.”

L: “I guess you’d give me a pretty bad rating since you don’t want to tell me.”

D: “Leslie, I am not doing this.”

L: Fair enough.

The conversation you just read occurred just before Christmas. It’s amazing what is revealed after Christmas is over and the pressure to be “nice” is off. This conversation happened just last night.

Leslie: “So, that comment you made about stripper money on Laurie’s blog the other day…seemed like you really knew what you were talking about.”

Dave: “Yeah! I meant to tip this girl two dollars, but the bills in my wallet were all mixed up and I gave her a twenty and a one instead of two ones.”

L: “WHAT?!?!”

D: “Oh, this was, like, seven or eight years ago.”

L: “You go to strip clubs?!?!”

D: “Only two times in my whole life.”

L: “You go to strip clubs!!?!?!”

D: “Honey, I haven’t gone to one since I met you and I will never go to one again. I have no desire to go now that I have you.”

L: “That’s good.”

D: “….”

L: “I mean, if you want to go to strip clubs, that’s fine. You can go. You just don’t need to come home afterwards.

D: “I’m not going to go to one.”

L: “And you should remember that every one of those girls has a father, just like your daughter.”

D: “Alright.”

(long pause)

L: “So, she must have been pretty good.”

D: “What?”

L: “She must have been a pretty good stripper for you to want to give her a tip.”

D: “No way. Nuh-uh. I know what you’re doing.”

L: “What? I’m just trying to figure out what makes a stripper tip-worthy. I mean, what did she do to earn that tip?”

D: “You’re setting me up.”

L: “I’d just like to know.”

D: “…”

All that got me thinking, so I decided to perform a little test.

Leslie: “Dave, am I a good wife?”

Dave: “You’re better than good. You’re the best.”

L: “Well, how would you rate me? You know, if you were giving me a performance review.”

D: “There isn’t a rating meaningful enough to measure how wonderful you are.”

Yeah, he’s come a long way, baby.

When I was a little girl, I loved Puff, the Magic Dragon. It was the second song on a children’s LP record album I owned; I nearly wore a groove in the vinyl from playing it so often.

It was no coincidence that my first pet was a cat called Puff.

That song took up residence in my young heart – somewhere deep inside, and a little to the left.

This year for Christmas, I passed this treasure from my childhood on to Julia through this lovely picture book endorsed by the original singer/songwriter Peter Yarrow and co-composer Lenny Lipton.

When she unwrapped it on Christmas morning, we immediately gave it a swift read through.

Later, when things quieted down, we snuggled on the couch together to look at it again. We put on the accompanying CD and read along with the music. Julia was drawn right in and didn’t notice the tears I was wiping away when “Jackie Paper came no more.”

Once the song ended, we read it again. This time, we took notice of the subtle characters on each page – rocks with friendly faces, smiling flowers and happy trees. And then, when the song began to play, this time an instrumental version, Julia was adamant that I sing the words as we flipped through the book one more time.

So, I began.

Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

So far, so good. I continued.

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.

And on I went, until that verse. You know the one.

A dragon lives forever, but not so little girls and boys.
Painted wings and giants’ rings make way for other toys.
One gray night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more,
And Puff, that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain.

And so did my tears. Like a rainstorm. Or maybe a hurricane.

Julia asked me why I was crying, and I explained that it made me sad when Jackie Paper gets too grown up to play with Puff anymore. We lingered on that page, where Jackie Paper is walking off as Puff looks longingly after him.

Julia said softly, “He doesn’t have to grow up if he doesn’t want to.” And I could remember how I would hug my cat and tell him, “I’ll never grow up,” when this part of the song would play.

And then Julia slowly turned the pages of the book – that lovely, perfect book – to an image of a little girl, coming to play with Puff while a grown up Jackie Paper peeks around the corner. Her eyes lit up and she told me, “Look, Mom! A girl comes to play with Puff. Look! He makes a new friend. See? It isn’t sad.”

I tried to compose myself and said, “You’re right, I guess it isn’t. He does make a new friend.” Trying to divert her attention away from my silly sobbing I asked, “What do you think her name is?”

“Maybe it’s Julia.”

“Absolutely. It is.”

An icy cold floor greeted our warm feet, fresh out of bed on Christmas Eve morning. By the time we reached the breakfast table, there was no denying the bitter chill in the air. After a little investigating, we found that the furnace wasn’t working because our oil supply had run out. Amid the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, I’d neglected to keep tabs on our fuel levels. I had no idea we were so low. (Or maybe on some subconscious level I did, but was secretly hoping I wouldn’t have to dish out that $3.03 per gallon until after the holidays.) I was relieved when the fuel company called to tell us they could get someone out to fill the tanks that afternoon. Until then, we put on socks and sweaters, lit the fireplace and went about our Christmas Eve business.

Julia and I watched Christmas shows and made some fudge.

Soon, a very merry oil delivery man arrived, filled the tanks and wished us a Happy Christmas as he was heading straight home for the holidays from here – his last stop of the day. We restarted the furnace and I stood above the hot air duct in the dining room to feel the shift in the air from cool to warm, but it never came. After even more investigating, button-pressing and mess-making, we found that our oil filter needed changed. It was jam-packed full of the yucky sludge that sits at the bottom of an oil tank. Since I’d let the oil run out, all that crud had been sucked into the filter. By the time we came to that realization, every oil furnace filter place in a 100 mile radius was closed for the holidays. So, we pulled out a few space heaters, cranked the fireplace up to a roar and decorated sugar cookies as we sang Christmas Carols.

Julia chose a few cookies to put out for Santa and I gave her a gift of Christmas pajamas to open. She took a bath, put on her new night-night clothes and headed for bed. She was so excited, I knew she wouldn’t fall asleep right away. So, I snuggled up next to her and we talked softly in the dark.

“What do you think Santa will bring you, Julia?”

“The baby that swims. I know he will, because he came to my house and I told him myself.”

“What else do you think he’ll bring?”

“Well, I think that’s all. Just the baby that swims. That’s all I asked for.”

I knew then that she was going to have a magnificent Christmas morning.

Once she drifted off to sleep, I got back up, and with the help of my mother, performed my elf duties. Two and a half views of A Christmas Story (or 5 hours) later, at 4 a.m., I was back in bed for, literally, a few winks of sleep. Before I could even dream, Julia was kissing my cheeks and saying, “Merry Christmas, Mommy!”

She woke the rest of the family and we all flew down the stairs. I grabbed my video camera just in time to get her reaction to the Christmas tree surrounded by presents. She bounced and shouted that Santa had come! Within moments of scanning the wrapped gifts, she pointed to one package and said, “There it is, Mom. That’s the baby that swims.” And she was right.

But, before she attempted to unwrap anything, she first located the gift she and my mom had made for Grandpa and insisted that he open that first – a gesture that was more of a gift than the thing she gave him. And then, only after she had delivered a gift to her Grandma, her Daddy and me, did she open her baby that swims – a toy she loves so much that she told me they are going to get married.

Julia in her Rose Petal Cottage

Peeking out of her new Rose Petal Cottage

I was so proud of that girl as she opened her presents. She asked me, before opening each one, who it was from and was more gracious than I knew a three-year old could be. She was genuinely thrilled by her gifts. If she opened a book, we had to read it straight away. If she unwrapped clothing, she had to put it right on. And when the unwrapping was done, she said, “I got so much more than I asked for! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!”

And then today, to really cement that idea of gratitude into her three-year old brain, we made thank you cards for the people who were generous enough to give her a present. In addition to adhering one thing to another, she wrote her name on each card.

Our Thank You Notes

And through it all, we managed to stay so warm and toasty, that I forgot to get a furnace filter today. Who needs heat when you’ve got the warmth of Christmas?

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